Tuesday, March 3, 2009

My Best Clutter Solutions

The Heart of the Matter is having a Carnival on Organization. The first topic is clutter. I have read a lot of books about organization and clutter over the past few years in an attempt to clean up the constant messes in our home.

So, I'm going to share with you my best clutter solutions. One of the worst problems I've had is with mail! I started with a double basket hung on the wall in the kitchen next to the door that goes out to our garage. That is usually where we bring the mail in, since we live out in the country, and don't get our mail delivered directly to the house. We bike, walk, or drive down the lane to the mailbox. The idea with the baskets was to have an incoming and outgoing basket. It worked pretty well in the beginning. Later, it just became a basket for junk mail...and usually became piled up...as you can see from the picture.

My better solution came with the addition of recycling bins (drawers actually) in our garage, right outside that same kitchen door. This way the junk mail or extra junk papers in the mail generally do not even make it in the house. Recycling was another clutter problem. I didn't have a good place to sort or keep recyclables, but I felt terribly guilty when I knew I could recycle something, but instead threw it away. So, we had plastic bags full of mail that need to be recycled or shredded. I had stacks of cans, cardboard, 1 and 2 plastics, which got put in trash cans to be sorted again before actual recycling. Since we live in the country, we don't have the luxury of curb pick for recycling, but actually have to cart the recyclables to the center ourselves.

So, with the addition of the drawers for recycling (good old Wal-Mart, back in the Hardware section), I moved our shredder upstairs next to the door and the drawers. I used to keep the shredables and recyclables in a plastic bag to be sorted later. Of course they would pile up. Then I would have to shred them a little at a time, or the shredder would get too hot and stop on its own. Now, they get sorted each day. I have one bin for paper to recycle. I take that to the paper recycling at our local library. The paper we recycle helps to buy new books for the library. I keep the paper we shred in another drawer to add to our fireplaces when we start fires in the winter, or to our fire pit when we're roasting marshmallows in nice weather!

If you don't have a shredder, or a recycling center, you can still deal with the mail clutter. The thing is to deal with mail everyday! My sister has a house set up like mine (basement through the garage & bill paying in the basement). She lives in the city, so she gets her mail delivered to the front door. She has a wooden mail sorter that hangs next to her kitchen/garage door. She has a large trash can right outside that door. She tosses everything that is not important to save right away. The things that I would shred, she rips up into tiny pieces. This is also her trash can for kitchen stuff and dirty diapers, so no one in their right mind is going to be digging through those tiny pieces of paper!

I love to use tote bags for keeping clutter under control. I collect free tote bags, tote bags on sale, and each Mother's Day, I take a picture of my kids and make an iron on for a new tote bag. I keep a tote bag for the magazines and books I'm reading. I have a separate tote bag for our Co-op papers and binders. Being homeschoolers, we use the library often and books can easily get misplaced or mixed up. I keep different tote bags for the two different libraries we use. That way we keep them sorted and return them to the correct library. The library books get returned to the proper tote when they are not being read.

I love baskets for small books. There were so many years that the kids would pull all their books off the shelves to find one or two books. You know, those thin books that don't have a spine with the title on it. I bought cute little colored baskets at the local Dollar Tree and sorted Thomas and Bob the Builder in a blue basket, Barbie in a pink basket, and so on. Then the kids could just pull out the basket they want and thumb through the fronts of the books to find the book they want. I haven't cleaned up a giant pile of small books since that idea!

My other best solutions are clear plastic containers with lids. I collected a bunch of shoe box size ones at the Dollar Tree to organize our school supplies: crayons, glue with tape and scissors, chalk, flashcards, and more, each in their own box. We use large clear containers to clean up the kids toys in their rooms. They don't play with all their stuff at once, but having it all their rooms wound up meaning most of their toys were always in their floors. We organized the toys by category into containers. For my son, we have containers of Bob the Builder, Thomas the Train, tools, Cars. For my daughter, we have containers of bears, Care Bears, Disney, dolls, Barbies. We keep the containers in the storage room and they swap out toys when they're done playing with them. I know my Mom used to use a similar trick of rotating toys. My six and eight year old mostly handle this themselves.

The other thing we have a continuing problem with in our home is shoes and house shoes. We have to go through our garage to get to our basement...which house the classroom, playroom, workout room, laundry room, family room, sewing room, and storage room. Until I put in the three basket cart, I was constantly tripping over house shoes in my kitchen. We don't have a closet in our entry way, so shoes and coats were tossed everywhere. When we wanted to go somewhere, or even outside, we had to go on a shoe hunt. I put up one set of hooks for coats, and had my Hubby make up the lower version for the kids (with my instructions), and I bought the shelf for shoes in the Hardware Section of Wal-Mart. We're still working on everyone remembering to put their shoes on the shelf, but having a place for them has greatly helped.

I have to say I have been in the state of "Where in the world do I begin" all too often. One of the best ways I learned to combat that feeling is to pick something up that's out of place every time you leave a room. Sometimes I'd be annoyed that no one else moved the object, sometimes I left it myself, sometimes it's just a piece of trash that wound up in the floor (still annoying), but leaving it there only made things worse. Now I try to pick up as many things as possible when I leave a room. Sometimes I have a notebook with me to write in one room, but really I need that notebook in another room after I'm done writing.

I do still leave most of the children's things for them to pick. But I'm setting a good example for them. I try to remind them to take their things with them, rather than ordering or nagging. You catch more bees with honey! You also get more results with consequences. If they don't pick up their things in a reasonable amount of time, I pick them up and put them in holding until they miss them or earn them back (depending on the object).

So, those are my best tips. Hope they are helpful to someone! Maybe my own kids someday.


  1. We definitely need to recycle more. We recycle school papers and magazines, but I have used the country living excuse to not recycle more things. Thanks for showing how it can be done!
    Amy -http://www.homeschoolhelperonline.com/blog

  2. I love the photos of your entryway! So nice and neat. I have tried everything to keep ours clutterfree but it always ends up being a catch-all for everbody's junk!